MTB Events

From Mediocre to Mega: Failure to Launch

Deputy editor Aoife is taking on the Megavalanche, a mass start MTB race in Alpe D'Huez. Follow her journey as she gets herself ready for the challenge of a lifetime.

Meet Skye the trail dog! How cute is she?!

As I may have mentioned, I’m a lady who likes a plan. I like to work out where I need to get to, and what I need to do to get there.

In this case, where I need to be is good enough to survive a gruelling 200m of vertical descent in a mass start bike race from the top of a mountain in France. So I’m aiming quite high then.

What do I need to do? Well, that all depends on what level I’m at now. In an attempt to approach this with something like organisation, I’ve broken my planning down into three areas.

1. Personal fitness

2. Technical ability

3. Kit and equipment

I’ve made a good start on number one, enlisting the help of a trainer. I’ve just been for the fitness test – more on that soon – and I’ve got an actual training plan with actual exercises and everything. Go me! If I can keep to the plan, I might just get that part sorted.

Number 3 I can start looking at a bit closer to the race, as it’s less time reliant.

Number 2, like number 1, is time specific, and it’s the one I’m most worried about. Am I going to be skilled enough to make it down the mountain, ideally in one whole piece.

I wasn’t really sure how to test this, other than by attempting to ride the route in advance – and as it’s currently a ski resort, that might be tricky.

So I decided to go with the backup option; find something quite hard in the UK and see how I get on with that. I was looking for something rocky, mountainous, reachable from London to ride in a weekend, and not too death-y.

What came to mind was that most majestic of Welsh mountains, Snowdon. As luck would have it, a group of mountain biking friends were heading there to give it a go. I was invited to tag along, and the plan was set.

Snowdonia National Park is actually a brilliant location for a weekend of riding, as there’s lots to do even if you don’t fancy riding Snowdon itself. There are trail centres, downhill tracks with uplifts, and wild, natural cross country routes galore.

Warm, cosy and stocked with plenty of food. This is what you want to return too after a long day on the bike.

A long drive up on a Friday got us to the cosy bunk house the group had rented by about 11pm. Enough time for some food and drink in front of the wood burning stove before bed, with some time to get the kit ready for the next day.

The plan was to warm up those MTB muscles by doing uplifts at the downhill tracks at Antur Stiniog, so Saturday morning saw us all set off bright and early. We drove the Llanberis pass on our way, with Snowdon doing it’s best impression of a snow-covered Alp. The snow was a little bit of a worry for the next day, but we were optimistic.

Uplifts are a great way of getting lots of skills practice in without complete knackering yourself on long climbs. A truck with a special trailer carts you and your bike to the top of the trails, and you ride down as hard and fast (or in my case considered and in control) as you like.

Repeatedly riding the same trails was brilliant, as it meant I could try and improve my riding just a little bit every time. There’s something quite rewarding about seeing yourself improve visibly over the course of the day, nailing rock sections in the afternoon that had you hyperventilating in the morning. I suspect uplift days will feature a lot in my upcoming skills training plan!

This is the kind of ultimate bike setup I’d LOVE!

A post-ride snack of hot tea and homemade bacon sandwiches were prepared in-van by my co-riders (I’ve now added ‘amazing bike camper van’ to my fantasy bike accessories wishlist) and then it was back to the bunkhouse for copious amounts of chilli con carne and cake. Not together, obviously.

After an amazing nights sleep, Sunday dawned. We were rested, fed, eager and ready to take on the mountain. Then we looked outside the window.

The weather was…well, I think the best description is that the weather was clearly there. What appeared to be missing was Wales. All of it.

Out of the window we could see a nearby tree loosing branches and twigs, swirling masses of white fog, and lashing rain droplets.

There’s a mountain out there, somewhere…

All of us were riders who were willing to brave the elements, and usually didn’t stop a little thing like inclement weather stop us. This was a very different matter, however. Riding in wet weather at a trail centre is a very different kettle of fish to trying to hike up and ride down an actual mountain in zero visibility. None of us wanted to end up on the evening news, or an episode of Helicopter Heroes.

We were all a little bit sad, and quite deflated, but sometimes the weather wins, and it’s safer not to go out. Snowdon was just going to have to wait for a less doomy day.

A mixed result in the Mega Plan, then. The uplifts were good, and I didn’t do too badly there. I still don’t really have a gauge on my skills and fitness though, so I’m going to have try and work out another plan. The Lake District, maybe?

If you’ve got any suggestions – I’m all ears!

Want to discover how Aoife got into this position in the first place? Check out her other posts;

From Mediocre to Mega: Taking on the Megavalanche?

From Mediocre to Mega: Here Goes Nothing!

From Mediocre to Mega: Getting to the Bottom of it


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